Title: Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones
Author: Micah Dean Hicks
Genre: Horror, Speculative Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
Goodreads Summary: “Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms… They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.
Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.
When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.”
Review: There is just so much to unpack with this book, I don’t know how I’m going to keep this review a reasonable length. While I can hardly say what it was I expected, I can say with complete certainty that it wasn’t what I got. And thank the gods for that! This book wow’d me. WOW’D. Me. Now where to start, where to start…
The cover: in no way appealed to me. If you’ve been here awhile, you know how much I covet covers. Covers are meant to convey something about the book, they make promises about what’s on offer inside, and if I don’t like the cover, my gut says I’m likely to feel the same about the story. Were it not for the promise of ghosts (and the offer of an ARC), I probably would have bypassed this book. And that would have been terrible!!! Now that I’m done reading it, the cover is no more aesthetically appealing to me, but I see how it connects to the actual story, and it really couldn’t be more appropriate.
The story: I’d say I’m at a loss for words, but it’s really that there are so many words, and I shouldn’t write a novel or an essay (though I would love to do a deep, close read of this book, if time allowed, there is so much to dissect!). This story promised ghosts and it delivered in spades, but there is so much more to this than ghosts. This is not the kind of horror novel with graphic and gruesome violence and anxiety-inducing, heart-wrenching fear. Which isn’t to say there isn’t some violence, and perhaps a little gruesomeness, but that it isn’t particularly graphic, and it is what causes it that is where the horror lies. And the fact that the source is reflective of many of American societies ills, that it all makes sense.
To some, it might seem a bit absurdist. There were moments when I felt that way, and I suspect it’s intended. This story is a sort of quasi-apocalyptic Animal Farm meets Frankenstein with angry ghosts who can hurt you, who can possess you, who are angry and sad and scared and can’t move on to…wherever or whatever the next step is. Their existence has crumbled, and over the years, the town they left behind has crumbled along with them, weakening their tether to the world. They fight desperately to prevent change, while still keeping the town alive, because they are afraid of the unknown, because they feel they were cheated and are owed something, because they have things they still want to do, because they have needs that must be filled. And they don’t care who they hurt along the way.
Oh my gosh, I could go on and on, but what I mean to say is, it is a strange book, but it is a beautifully strange book, thought-provoking, poignant, and ridiculously relevant. It is fascinating and hideous, beautiful and confounding, brilliant and ghastly. Without a doubt, one of the most surprising stories I’ve ever read, certainly not one I’ll forget, and an easy, hands-down, no-need-to-contemplate, brilliantly-shining 5 star read.
All of that said, this feels like a book that isn’t for everybody. There are some small, quick scenes of violence. It is not a happy or light read. It’s edgy and twisted and bizarre and outlandish and if you like those things, it’s absolutely fabulous and you should read it now. Right. Now.